Minority Report

I can’t stop thinking about what happened in Orlando over the weekend. It’s brought up a lot of different thoughts and issues for me. Where I thought I knew my mind, I’m now unsure. This is my attempt to reconcile those thoughts.

 

Pulse is a nightclub in Orlando, Florida. On Saturday night it was the location of the worst gun massacre in US history.

 

We’re not talking about Swindon or England or United Kingdom, we’re talking about the United States of America.

 

According to the Gun Violence Archive (http://www.gunviolencearchive.org/reports/mass-shooting) this is the 136th mass shooting in the United States this year alone – that’s one every 29 hours.

 

On the 11th June the website reports that there were five mass shootings, a day later, there was just one. But it was the worst one they’d ever had. That’s why you’re hearing about it, that’s why it’s everywhere, because even somewhere like America, this was an exceptional event.

 

The shooter went into Pulse – self-styled as the hottest gay club in Orlando, and ranked second most popular according to the users of gaycities.com (http://orlando.gaycities.com/bars/) as of 13th June – and killed forty nine people, injuring many more. The death of the shooter himself takes the number of dead to a round 50.

 

Why did he do it?

 

Short of finding a signed confession, we may never be a hundred per cent certain for the reasons behind the massacre, the gunman himself has a violent history, as well as suspected links with IS. Islamic State themselves have already claimed responsibility, but there is no substantial evidence that they had any direct involvement.

 

We do know that his father has already confirmed that the gunman became “very angry” after recently seeing two men kissing.

 

If there are so many mass shootings in America, why is it this one that has upset me?

 

The reason I can’t stop thinking about it, is because it was aimed at me. At my friends. This wasn’t done for religious reasons, or race reasons, or even because of a relationship gone wrong.

 

This was beyond race, beyond religion – but not beyond love. It was love the gunman objected to. Love between men, love between women, and any variation thereof.

 

I’ve never felt like a minority before.

 

Minorities in the we talk about them are people who need protection, people who are vulnerable. I’m lucky enough to have grown up in a time and a place where I’ve never felt that.

 

I’m a white, English-speaking man, I’m by no means rich but nor do I struggle. I live in one of the most forward thinking countries of the world and I can criticise the people who lead my country without fear of retribution.

 

I’m also gay.

 

In the past, I’ve been critical of Gay Pride events in their current form. I’ve always said that I understood why Pride marches were needed, but that I felt they weren’t needed anymore.

 

Pride marches in the UK have become over-sexualised, commercial parties. When straight families are taking their children and grandchildren to Pride events, when music acts are queuing up to take part and when the event itself is part-funded by government of the day, I can’t help but feel we’ve achieved what we set out to achieve.

 

For me, the focus should shift away from standing apart and more to integration. Being gay doesn’t define me, it is just part of who I am. I don’t need a special bar or a special nightclub or a special march. I’m proud of who I am wherever I am, whatever day of the year.

 

I’ve never begrudged those who did. I’ve always understood their reasoning. A safe place to go up to a guy and ask him out, being able to be who we really are without having to worry – but the truth is, most of us feel ok to do that most of the time these days.

 

Until now.

 

Someone invaded one of those safe places and started slaughtering us. That could have been me. I’ve not been to Pulse in Orlando, but a couple of weeks ago I was enjoying drinks in gay bars in Los Angeles.

 

They’re 2,500 miles away from each other, they’re not exactly close (the distance between them is only marginally shorter than the distance between London and Syria) but the in LA are the same as they are in Florida.

 

Someone could have taken offence at me mincing through Beverly Hills and done exactly the same thing.

 

It could have been any of us.

 

The whole incident brings up lots of different issues and already has from gun control to, bizarrely, whether the UK should leave Europe (we shouldn’t, if anything this teaches us that a tolerant world with closer links to other cultures is more important than it ever was).

 

But for me, the issue is more personal… it goes to the heart of who I am. To who we are as a society.

 

We talked about what happened in Paris, we talked about what happened in Brussels. At the office today, no one talked about Orlando.

 

It’s not an attack on the United States or the Western world. It’s an attack on a community, on my community.

 

I’m not going to forget what happened in Pulse, Orlando, and I’m not going to let it scare me into hiding away. Short of breaking out into a show-stopping performance of ‘I Am Who I Am’ complete with John Barrowman-esque jazz hands, I’m going to be the gayest gay I can.

 

I’m not going to feel like a minority anymore.

What Have You Done Today To Make You Feel Proud?

I spent ages trying to come up with the perfect pride/shame pun for the title of this blog post and I failed myself, so in the end I settled for quoting Heather Small, because when all else fail, there’s M People.

Why was I trying to convolute a pun about pride and shame? Because last week I watched Pride – the film about Gays and Lesbians of 1980’s London supporting striking miner’s in a small Welsh village.

The shame bit comes from the fact that I didn’t realise it was real. Or at least based on a true story. Maybe I didn’t pay enough attention to the pre-release publicity, but what bothered me more is that I should have known about it long before the film.

The LGSM were a real-life group set up by Mark Ashton and Mike Jackson (played brilliantly by Ben Schnetzer and Joe Gilgun) – part of their group was Jonathan Blake and they, along with many others, raised money for the miners, one of whom was married to the now Labour MP, Sian James.

Jonathan Blake’s story is actually pretty secondary to the story of Pride, but there he is, an important part of our history. In the film he – as played by Dominic West – declares that he is patient Number 2. The second person to be diagnosed with HIV – he’s still alive, and nobody knows why.

To this day, after all the death that has surrounded – and still does – HIV for the last thirty odd years, he’s still alive.

For a community that is so intrinsically associated with the disease, his name is one we should all know. Not only did I not know his name, the man doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page. His story should be known by us all, but when you search for him, he only comes up in association with the film.

The other names we should know are those of Mark, Mike and Sian. Together they made LGSM into a successful integration of two communities – one that reached its peak in 1985 when the group led the pride March in London.

In short, following the Pride march in 1985 – where the film ended – the Labour party put gay rights onto its agenda. It had been proposed previously, but had been defeated. This time, with the support of the miner’s, it passed.

And so, amidst 1980’s Conservatism, there was suddenly a political party that was concerned with gay rights – and the reason they were concerned with it is because their core voters, a group of miner’s, were concerned with it. This was a group of people from outside the traditional gay community.

Where we are today is not solely down to what happened between those two communities during the Miner’s strike, but it is an important part of our history and it’s something we should know.

Imagine not knowing about Emmeline Pankhurst, never having heard that name before. It’s hard for me as a 27 year old man to imagine a Great Britain where women aren’t allowed to vote.

In 2015, looking back, it may have seemed inevitable that women would be given the vote but it didn’t seem inevitable to Pankhurst, it seemed to be a massive injustice that she had to fight for.

She wasn’t the only one, and if she didn’t exist, then women would probably still have got the vote. But they might not have done.

Maybe if LGSM had never come about, gay rights would have marched on inevitably towards where we are today. But they might not have done.

It’s a crime that it took me to 2015 to learn the names Mike Jackson, Mark Ashton and Jonathan Blake. They are an integral part of this country’s modern history, and it’s one that should be taught about in schools.

We need to know where we came from and how we got where we are, but during my schooldays, History lessons started at the Egyptians and ended in 1945. I know next to nothing about the 1950’s onwards… and that’s really embarrassing.

Like many minority groups, there is still a lot of progress that needs to be made – the upcoming Marriage vote in Ireland in May proves that much – but what we can learn from ‘Pride’ and LGSM is that we can all make a difference, even with just small actions, just by showing some compassion and taking a stand for injustice.

What have you done today to make you feel proud?